Nigerian Unionists Detained

29th July, 2004


The State Security Services (SSS) today arrested two officials of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) inside the premises of the National Assembly in Abuja. They were arrested for distributing copies of the NLC’s response to the bill to the National Legislators.

The Congress officials, Mr Benson Upah, NLC Parliamentary Liaison Officer and Mr Moses Umaru of the Adminstration Department were arrested at about 1.30 p.m. and detained on the ground floor of the National Assembly before being taken to the SSS Headquarters in Abuja. The team that detained the NLC officials was led by the SSS officer-in-charge of the National Assembly.

An attempt to also arrest two other NLC officials Mr Innocent Ogwuche and Miss Jane Alabi also on the National Assembly premises failed as they escaped from the hands of their would-be captors.

The arrest of the NLC officials is a deliberate attempt by the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration to intimidate the National Assembly, the NLC and Nigerians in general over his ill-conceived and anti-people bill.

President Obasanjo cannot on one hand try to ban the NLC, and the other seek to stop the NLC from carrying her case to the National Assembly.

The NLC cannot and will not be intimidated by such repressive tactics. The President and his administration must know that once they present a bill to the National Assembly, it becomes a public issue and that they cannot stop Nigerians from engaging the National Assembly on such a bill. No earthly power can stop the NLC and workers from presenting our case on the bill before the National Assembly.

The NLC demands the immediate and unconditional release of her detained officials and a public apology from President Obasanjo’s administration.

Owei Lakemfa,
Acting General Secretary


We're So Happy that It Wasn't an Oil War After All

“Loaded the first cargo of crude oil from the Karachaganak Field in Kazakhstan at Russia’s Black Sea port of Novorossiysk. This represented the first shipment of Karachaganak production through the Caspian Pipeline Consortium export pipeline that provides access to world markets.” (press release pdf p. 2).

ChevronTexaco Reports Record Quarterly Net Income of $4.1 Billion

Production down four percent, but price up 35 percent: “Internationally, the average liquids price was up 35 percent to $32.48 per barrel….Worldwide oil-equivalent production, including volumes produced from oil sands and production under an operating service agreement, declined about 4 percent from the 2003 second quarter.” (p. 3).

See Also:

Resolves to intensify fight against Imperialist Onslaught
By Swadesh Dev Roye
Coalition of Indian Trade Unions

Delegation Tours Colombia, Hosted by Oil Workers Union
By Tom Burke
Fight Back News (Minneapolis, MN)

USO Colombia

Portside Readers Respond

Readers’ Responses and Reactions — July 29, 2004

[The following readers respond to the Peacefile article below:
“From No to Yes on Kerry: Andy Stern Points to Health Care.”
The article and the responses were circulated via the Portside
email list on July 29, 2004.]

Re: Andy Stern Points to Health Care

Good points made, but I would also add, in Kerry’s first hundred days, he should first implement true labor organizing rights that include a card check process for union elections. We in the labor movement could then go about the task of organizing the unorganized without employer interference. That simple act would dramatically change this country. With a dramatic increase in the numbers of union membership, we could gain a single payer health plan, take out our medical benefits from the economic workplace, and organize the south. This simple act would dramatically change the political landscape in this country.

Edwin Herzog SEIU 250


Re: Andy Stern Points to Health Care

Andy Stern’s proposal that progressives work for Kerry “in exchange’ for a prospect of his (Kerry’s) fixing of the health care system within the first 100 days of his administration (if not, the “gloves come off”–i.e., progressives can organize themselves as a separate pressure group, delinking their hopes and visions from Kerry) seems rather tame and likely to reiterate the predicament of progressives: supporting centrist democrats only to be disappointed–over, and over, and over, and over again. (By the way, it is the election of people who are unwilling to or afraid of articulating for the American public a progressive agenda, and of standing boldly for it, except at certain moments of convenience, that reproduces the type of electorate that makes possible the increasing rightward tilt of American politics).

I believe progressives can and should follow a different track: while expressing their willingness and desire to support Kerry, they should make that support contingent not on a prospect that Kerry will fix the health care situation but on a hard promise/commitment (with teeth, negotiated by those in a position to do so) that he will do so. The idea that progressives can bargain with centrists is not in itself wrong. it is even necessary, and good. But if bargaining there must be, as there must, let it, then, indeed be real bargaining, not an unfounded hope that the Democratic Party will, this time, deliver out of its own bowls. it will not.

Progressives indeed need Kerry to win. But Kerry also needs progressives to win. If there is to be bargaining, let it be real bargaining.

Antonio Callari


Re: Andy Stern Points to Health Care

Greg Moses gave us a good analysis of the Left predicament vis-à-vis Iraq and health care. Andy Stern’s proposals on this issue are intriguing, but fraught with the dangers Moses brings up. I don’t think most Left activists “answer with a resounding no” to the question whether supporting Kerry will be worth it. I know lots of folks who subscribe to ABB (“Anybody But Bush”) and thus reluctantly support Kerry. His Iraq and related Defense budget proposals are worse than Bush’s, but holding his feet to the fire on health care will at least reinforce cynicism on the part of the US electorate, when he almost inevitably doesn’t deliver.

I don’t think the Left has the numbers or influence to make a difference, but we can at least try to keep the health care issue on screen. People are going to be upset when health care reform is not delivered and we sink deeper into our self-engendered Iraq quagmire. It’s not at all likely that a Kerry administration, when faced with the choice between the Iraq war and health care, will choose the latter. Their corporate sponsors would not approve. Then again, should the Iraq war continue to prove quite costly in terms of lost lives and public support, maybe the ruling class will turn against it. And maybe they’ll decide it’s time, finally, to do something about health care. It’s hardly likely to be universal health in a Canadian or a British or a Japanese sense, however. They’ll find some way to protect the profits of the insurance and drug companies. But Stern and Moses are right. They may decide Iraq is too costly and so is our present health care setup. And maybe that does mean we need to elect Kerry rather than Bush, the more reasonable instead of the recalcitrant.

But either way, we on the Left are not going to have much to do with the electoral outcome or its aftermath unless and until we rebuild our base. That means concentrating on organizing in our workplaces and our communities, while of course also lending a hand to slightly more rational candidates, on local and state, as well as national, levels. I intend to vote for Kerry and maybe help his campaign microscopically, not because of any illusions on Iraq or health care, but because a Kerry administration MAY attack the poor and civil liberties a little less enthusiastically than another Bush one.

Greg King

SEIU, Local 888

From No to Yes on Kerry:

Andy Stern Points to Health Care

By Greg Moses

Like environmentalists looking back on James Watt, or peace activists looking back on the draft, lefty organizers realize they will lose something if they lose Bush in November. Question is: will electing Kerry be worth the cost? While many leftists answer with a resounding no, Andy Stern this week, in a pair of reports clipped and distributed by the Portside list, answers no, and yes.

On the no side, Stern tells David Broder that a Bush defeat will leave labor feeling less threatened, in less of a fighting mood, and less conflicted among its membership. Bad signs for movement history. In effect, Stern tells Broder that he agrees with critics who allege that the left will be deflated by a Kerry win.

On the yes side, however, Stern replies in a statement at the website of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), that he is backing a $65 million campaign to elect Kerry. Why? Because Kerry has been a better friend to labor over the years and because labor does, in fact, expect better things from a Kerry administration.

Stern’s journey from no to yes is interesting to consider as an internet play made during a widely touted internet convention, where bloggers have made their official debut. With the help of the internet, Stern can spin one way in the morning, another in the afternoon, offering on one hand important concessions to leftist critics while presenting on the other hand a clear determination to get Kerry elected.

Between yes and no, Stern also offers an intriguing strategic proposal that sets out for leftists and labor activists an agenda that might help to reclaim long-lost liberal momentum in American politics. If labor is going to stand loyal with Kerry, says Stern, they expect that Kerry will stand loyal with them by fixing health care in the first hundred days of his administration.

At first glance, the Stern proposal looks neat, unwinnable, and an evasion of Iraq. But it may also deserve further consideration. The neatness of the Stern deal gives left organizers a clear deadline for their honeymoon with Kerry. If Kerry doesn’t move on health care, if Kerry doesn’t deliver a fixed health care system very early, then the gloves come back off. If Kerry does deliver health care, then left organizers can chalk up an achievement worth their while.

But fixing health care in 100 days? Haven’t we seen something like this before? Is this plan to be counted as anything more than Hilary’s revenge? Doesn’t it seem incredible to think that the empire beast of the USA government, which just roared through Iraq, is going to change its spots by Spring Break 2005, and suddenly lie down with the lambs of universal health care?

And on the question of Iraq, how can Kerry’s campaign promises on that front be nailed to the same platform as universal health care? So far, he is promising more money for the Iraq war, not less. Is the health care issue supposed to make us forget all about Iraq?

On second thought, however, there is a chance that Stern’s proposal for a health care agenda might keep the left moving toward peace under a Kerry administration. If pressures for health care can be assembled and funded, then budgets will have to shift. It will be impossible to reconcile the books of health care with the books of war. If Iraq is an empire’s elective war that can be abandoned, then Stern’s plan offers to Kerry’s activist base a way to mobilize a peace presidency as soon as the oath of office is taken.

If this strategy works, then the left can begin winning sooner than we think. Indeed, if it possible for the left to do something coherent in the coming year, Stern’s plan beats any other that I’ve heard.

But there are a lot of “ifs” here. For instance, can this empire walk away from the Iraq war? Is Kerry’s left base capable of shaking up American politics to the point where universal health care becomes a political mandate? To answer these questions would require from left and labor activists a sober inventory of what they are able to bring to the struggle at hand.

Labor Day would mark an auspicious time to launch the strategy that Stern has in mind. As he says, “Fixing the health care system in America is going to take the blood, sweat, and tears of all of us and we’ll need the energy and unity we have now to do it.” Question is: are activists willing to risk it?

He's a Migrant Worker,

Working for Migrant Rights

By Greg Moses

Christian is a migrant worker who stands in the sun by day and sleeps in a tent by night. Unlike other migrant workers, however, Christian’s job is to protest for migrant rights. During the day he protests outdoors.

“I stand outside the National Assembly all day and my brain is cooked, it’s really torture,” says Christian speaking by telephone from his union office. “The temperature is 35 degrees (95 Fahrenheit), and there is no shelter, none at all. My signs there protest the troop dispatch to Iraq and call for the resignation of the president who used to be a human rights lawyer, now he acts a little bit different.”

After dark, Christian goes to his office at the Equality Trade Union (ETU) Migrants Branch, and works the internet, posting struggle reports and digital pictures. As far as Christian knows, there is not another “national” union of migrant workers anywhere else in the world, which would make him a unique international secretary.

There are groups that agitate for migrant rights. But Christian says those groups are usually backed by NGOs or churches. Migrant unions are quite rare. And among migrant unions, he knows of none other that is a national union for all kinds of labor.

Although Christian is a German citizen, he has worked full time in Korea for the past 15 months. His union, the ETU Migrants Branch, is part of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), the younger of the two trade union federations in Korea.

Lately, the financial press in Asia and elsewhere has been paying attention to Korean strikes, because the Korean labor calendar calls for annual contracts, and annual contracts call for annual strikes. Christian’s union, too, is leading a strike this year.

Strikers of the Myeong-dong Sit-in Struggle Collective (MSSC) recently celebrated day 250. They live in three large tents that have been pitched in the heart of Seoul at Myeong-dong, the Korean equivalent of Times Square. Eight months ago, there were 80 strikers. Today the number stands at 30 to 40, “so there is ample room in the tents,” says Christian. “The tents are our temporary homes. We live there except when we go out for demonstrations or organizing people.”

Although some labor reforms for migrant workers have been enacted by the Korean National Assembly, Christian’s union is not satisfied with the progress: “We want legislation that will give us labor rights, work visas, and the right to choose our work place. Also we want all migrant workers released from detention centers. They recently arrested 2,000.” These are the issues he works for.

“To be realistic,” says Christian, “in the situation we are in now, we will not get what we want. The activists are not many. Migrant workers in Korea once numbered about 130,000, then there was a crackdown and about 10,000 left, but the number is back up to 160,000. The crackdown completely failed. The government thought they could treat people with a massive crackdown and they would leave the country, but they didn’t. They are only in hiding, waiting for better times.”

Migrant workers in Korea come from all over. “Many come from China. Also Vietnam, Mongolia, Philippines, Bangladesh (Pakistan), Nigeria, Ghana,” and of course, Germany. They work in small factories, construction sites, and other “3-D” jobs that are dirty, dangerous, and difficult. And they work six days a week, Monday through Saturday.

Korean workers as a whole only recently won the right to a five-day work week. That is one reason why this season’s strikes have been more numerous. The subway strike is partly about the number of new people that have to be hired so that all workers can have two days off. Auto workers also are striking for higher pay because they’d like to work less overtime.

As Christian sees it, Korean unionists are still fighting to catch up with the rights and freedoms that belong to workers in other places, such as Germany. “The ruling class can use pictures to make us look very militant. But the workers are striking for very ordinary things. Like the 40 hour work week. Europeans already have that and productivity of Korean workers is the same as Europeans. Here they have the right to fight for that.”

When workers have to work more than 40 hours per week, they miss out on life, children, spouses, and friends. A report about Asian and Pacific Islanders (API) in California could have been written about Korean migrant workers, too:

“Due to mandatory work hours or the need to work many jobs to survive, many API workers work extremely long hours,” reads a report from the AFL-CIO Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance and UCLA Labor Center. “This translates to less time with family and for supervising children. Studies have shown that poverty and lack of parental supervision lead to domestic violence, poor school performance, increased likelihood of children joining gangs, and therefore limitations on their future prospects. Low-wage workers live from check to check, and often need to change jobs, further adding to family instability. Yet, they are often trapped in low wage work because they do not have time to learn English or other work skills. Many workers need to rely on public funding for health, welfare, and retirement.”

In California, migrant workers face discrimination. “It’s the same in Korea,” says Christian, “especially when workers are new in the country. But now many speak Korean very well, they know Korean culture, and when they are organized in the union, even they went on strike for better work conditions.”

Christian explains that a recent strike by subway workers, “was just settled for 3 percent. Not much. I remember pilots in Germany striking for 30 percent and getting 25. Here the people are really fighting. They make a big thing of it, but it’s not really a big thing. A general strike, for instance, will include 2,000 to 3,000 people.”

Just before leaving Germany, Christian began working in homeless shelters. He see that in Germany there is more help for the homeless. “Here the social system is very under-developed. Here the poor really completely have nothing, nothing.” If the state services for homeless people differ from place to place, Christian says the reasons for homelessness remain the same. Older, cheaper housing is gradually replaced with newer and more expensive. Says Christian, “in Korea we are in solidarity with people who want to protect their homes.”

“Other reasons to get homeless are the same in Korea and Germany, especially for middle aged men,” he says. “It’s a civilization problem. When they destroy homes, people want to be compensated or given a new flat, which means that they are fighting, even with Molotov cocktails.”

I wonder how many Chinese workers in Korea fled impending homelessness? As new business moves into China, old workers move out. “Yes, businesses are moving to China,” says Christian. “But those are the large ones with big factories. The small businesses cannot move to China. Still, they need cheap labor, so the Chinese workers come here. They come from the countryside, mainly from the Northeast and the former industrial zones, where the government used to run big factories. But day by day those factories are closing. The majority of our migrant workers come from those inner migrations in China.”

Organizing Chinese workers is not easy. “The Chinese are very interested (of course we too). I have delivered leaflets to them in Chinese, but because the trade union in China is a part of government (state run, no independent trade unions exist there) if you really organize there you find yourself very fast in prison.”

In Korea, as everywhere, unionists keep one eye on the police. As the tent strike was being organized, Christian still kept a place to live at the outskirts of Seoul. But he gave up his dwelling place on the advice of fellow unionists who warned him that if he traveled such a distance from home to work every day, as a striking unionist, he would probably be intercepted by police.

It is now past midnight Korea time. I tell Christian that I hope he gets some sleep. “I should make rest for several days, but it is impossible,” he replies. “Then when I run out of work, there is no place to fall asleep.”


CounterPunch Readers on 'Fort Iraq'

Excellent perspective, enlighteningly ironic. May it be well and widely regarded.


You factually caught exactly the viewpoint of any non-American whose country is either visited, guarded or occupied in order to bring ‘prosperity’, ‘democracy’ or ‘culture’ from
God’s Own Country…they would like to cry as with your name-sake: “let our people go” !


Fortuitously, after a respite of forty days in the wilderness, I was fortunate to be able to affort the time to read your froth in Counterpunch today. As can be your forte, you put forth a well observed and well written effort…

Eye on Nigeria

Following are several newsclips from Nigerian sources, where Peacefile takes a special interest in the labor movement. Leader of the white collar oil union PENGASSAN escaped an assassination attempt soon after the union won rights to staff several management positions in Total-Fina-Elf operations. Unionists are planning to picket gas stations that violate court-ordered price controls. And if Nigerian refineries have not been rehabilitated by the government in late July, the oil unions are promising a strike. Union lawyers in a Nigerian court are meeting delays as they seek a contempt ruling against the government for not enforcing court-ordered price controls on fuel.

Meanwhile in Delta State, government troops are widely reported to have burned down six villages, killed dozens, and sent hundreds fleeing into the countryside, in a maneuver called Operation Hope purportedly directed against pirates who allegedly killed American oil workers and Nigerian Navy sailors in April.

Writing from Boston, two academics report on the environmental devastation of the Nigerian oil patch. Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged nearly a decade ago for his activism on this front.